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50 Essential Albums Released in 2014

Posted by Aaron Detroit, December 5, 2014 09:20am | Post a Comment

Aaron Detroit, Buyer at Amoeba Hollywood. I've worked in Hollywood for ten years, but started my time with Amoeba - way back in 1998 -  at the San Francisco store. Here is my extensive list of new essential listening, released in 2014. There is a wide range of genres and artists represented here because musical passion should not be static.





1. Swans - To Be Kind (Young God)
To Be Kind, Swans’ 3rd LP since their 2010 reformation (and 13th overall,) is an unlikely triumph after 2012’s seemingly unmatchable masterpiece, The Seer. Any trepidation one might have about the sprawling triple-LP’s intimidating track lengths should evaporate under it’s hypnotizing ebb-and-flow of mental blues, super-honed grooves, manic clatter and hushed passages; all of which are eventually crushed by monolithic waves of majesty. Nothing short of classic.



 2. Carla Bozulich - Boy (Constellation)
Boy is Carla Bozulich’s (of Ethyl Meatplow, Geraldine Fibbers and Evangelista-renown) 3rd solo affair, but in a lot of ways it feels like her first. Bozulich pours her famed, devastating whiskey-voice into a cocktail of funeral country, death blues and industrial noise that sticks to your guts. Carla herself refers to this LP as her “pop record,” and if that's a true description, we could sure use a whole lot more “pop” albums like Boy. Don’t overlook this one.



3. Scott Walker + Sunn O))) - Soused (4AD)
If you’re looking for the classic Sunn O))) sound, you should look elsewhere. Soused is to its bones a Scott Walker album -- wild, weird and wonderful. Walker’s baritone swan dives into cascading riffs that eventually ebb into low hums and sudden fits of industrial noise; a perfect fit for the album’s lyrical narratives of violence and oppression. Despite all this, it is bizarrely accessible --so far as modern day Walker LPs go.



4. Andy Stott - Faith In Strangers (Modern Love)
Composer/producer Andy Stott once again collaborates with vocalist Alison Skidmore. Strangers takes us on a late-night drive through varying auditory terrains: Minimal, long, tone pieces make their way through field recordings and cut-up ethereal vocals before a beat even drops halfway into the second track. By the second half of the nearly hour-long LP, Stott eventual begins to work up a sweat. Lively and dissonant yet beautiful and otherworldly, the album rides a line between chopped-and-screwed 4AD and bonkers analogue jams but remains skillfully cohesive.


5. Mica Levi - Under The Skin (OST) (Milan)
Typically, one would not include a film score on a year-end albums list, but Mica Levi’s score for Under The Skin is quite the exception. The score does just what the title suggests: it gets under your skin. Ligeti-inspired string orchestrations center around the same three notes throughout. Sometimes they appear as a comfort after long passages of dark pulses and dry wind, but more often the notes unsettle as they sweep back in out of darkness; the herald of “something-wicked-this-way-comes.” Even without the stellar film visuals (also one of the best of the year,) the score works all on it’s own as a spellbinding piece.


6. Wild Beasts - Present Tense (Domino)
 Wild Beasts are all grown up. It sounds sort of cliché, but Present Tense makes no qualms about that point. Gone is the horny hooting and howling of Two Dancers and Smother and in its place is an emotional and existential folk that sugars it’s eccentricities with sleek pop production --the sort that Kate Bush mined on Hounds of Love.




 7. Fatima Al Qadiri Asiatisch (Hyperdub)
Fatima Al Qadiri builds a dark, grand, video game-like world on Asiatisch. The artist herself calls this sonic landscape an ‘imagined China.’ One cobbled together from modern western media perspectives of the East, commenting on its racism, villainization and exoticism. Pan flutes and gongs meet crisp digital grime production and lyrics mocking Disney. It’s an album that challenges your own enjoyment of it.




8. Perfume Genius - Too Bright (Matador)
On Too Bright, producer Adrian Utley (of Portishead-fame) helps Mike Hadreas puts some pretty sick f—me pumps on the feet of Perfume Genius’ once delicate balladry. Sometimes he dons Alan Vega’s shades or PJ Harvey’s gold lamé (Harvey collaborator John Parish appears on nearly every track.) Too Bright is a surprising, successful progression from one of the most honest and compelling young songwriters around.



9. Mirel Wagner - When the Cellar Children See the Light of Day (Sub Pop)
When the Cellar Children See the Light of Day is the sound of the Finland-based singer/songwriter Mirel Wagner mastering the style of death balladry she introduced on her striking and stark 2011 self-titled debut. Wagner embellishes her guitar/voice arrangements very little here, adding only a bit of cello & piano (courtesy of Craig Armstrong) to just two of the album’s ten darkly gorgeous, mortality-obsessed tracks.



10. Vessel - Punish, Honey (Tri Angle)
It’s not really fair to call Punish, Honey an “electronic” album -- it’s creator, Seb Gainsborough, built his own instruments and beat the holy hell out of sheet metal and guitars he crafted from old bicycle parts-- but it does owe a debt to industrial innovators like Fad Gadget, Coil and Einstürzende Neubauten. Despite its primitive instrumentation and 30 year-old influences, Gainsborough’s instinctive production and dubby flare make it thoroughly modern.


11. Gazelle Twin - Unflesh (Last Gang)
The music Brighton-based electronic producer Elizabeth Bernholz (aka Gazelle Twin) has crafted for her second LP, Unflesh, is a Cronenbergian dystopia -- one that she sees as an actual reflection, not a projection. Bernholz uses pitch-shifted vocals, industrial rhythms, and supermarket field-recordings to accompany her lyrical narratives concerning bodily unease in the face of corporate rule and global riots.




12. Pharmakon - Bestial Burden (Sacred Bones)
Margaret Chardiet's follow-up to her intense, confrontational and instantly classic power electronics/industrial debut. Burden builds on the layered electronics and primal energy of it’s predecessor and adds some accessibility à la the digital bonus track “Bang Bang,” a version of the oft-covered Sonny Bono track that features Chardiet‘s singing in lieu of her usual distorted screams (with an arrangement that sounds strikingly similar to the one done by industrial godfathers Coil.)




13. Weyes Blood - The Innocents (Mexican Summer)
Weyes Blood moves away from the lo-fi faux-vintage of her previous effort, (2011’s The Outside Room,) and into a classic lush folk that recalls greats like Buffy Sainte-Marie (“Requiem For Forgiveness”) or Bridget St. John (“Bad Magic”).




14. Lust For Youth - International (Sacred Bones)
 2014 delivered the unfortunate news of the break-up of the excellent Danish “super-group” VÃ¥r. Elias Bender Rønnenfelt went back to his duties in Iceage and Loke Rahbek returned to his work with Hannes Norrvide in Lust For Youth who then released the superb International. The album sounds like it could have been the sophomore VÃ¥r album, straying far from LFY’s previous lo-fi fare. The album keeps a punkish charm (mostly thanks to the vocal delivery) while still delivering well-produced synth-pop anthems and ballads alike (Rønnenfelt even makes a vocal cameo.)


15. The Body - I Shall Die Here (Rvng Intl.)
The unholy union of The Body and The Haxan Cloak’s production is fittingly titled I Shall Die Here. Both artists are masters at creating bleak sonic worlds, so it’s not surprising the collaboration returns in spades. Doom riffs, industrial noir soundscapes, distorted bass, insane shrieking and super-creep-factor spoken samples make up the best LP by The Body to-date.




16. The Soft Pink Truth - Why Do the Heathen Rage? (Thrill Jockey)
 A deconstruction, homage, and also a giant “fuck you.” Drew Daniel perverts black metal classics by the likes of Darkthrone, Scarfago and Venom into vogue-ball burners, sultry house jams, and gothic floorfillers.




17. Dan Bodan - Soft (DFA)
Berlin-based Canadian singer/songwriter Dan Bodan makes off-kilter electro-soul. His pillow-talk R&B delivery is impossibly sincere for lyrics that deal in such unapologetic, romantic mush but Soft’s production features so many unsettling and jarring elements, it evokes a sort of paradoxical unease not unlike first love stomach-butterflies.





 18. HTRK - Psychic 9-5 Club (Ghostly International)
 On Psychic 9-5 Club, Australian trio HTRK (pronounced Hate Rock) wrap their warm dubby atmospheres around the laconic yet sultry vocal delivery of singer Jonnine Standish. It’s resulting sound is a sort of “Sade goes witch house,” which is actually pretty infectious and thrilling.




19. Jane Weaver - The Silver Globe
(Finders Keepers)

Brit singer/songwriter Jane Weaver pulls from a basket of tricks left behind by Silver Apples and Hawkwind on her new cosmic folk-pop album, The Silver Globe. The album takes it’s name and is inspired by Polish director Andrzej Żuławski's film On The Silver Globe, which should give one an idea of the sort-of 1970’s krautrock/soundtrack-vibe contained within. Weaver’s pretty and air-light voice floats above the fuzzy synths and rumbling bass, producing some wonderful earworms.



20. Ben Frost - A U R O R A  (Bedroom Community / Mute)
Composer Ben Frost’s new LP is the darkest of his career thus far. Thor Harris (Swans) and Greg Fox (ex-Liturgy) collaborate on this monstrous slab of searing synths and heavy percussion, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere that eventually gives way to beautiful, somber and ethereal textures underneath all the buzz, whir and din.


21. Grouper - Ruins (Kranky)
Recorded solely with a portable 4-track, stereo mic and an upright piano, Liz Harris’ 10th album as Grouper sheds the layers of reverb of previous work for something more intimate. Ruins is the perfect rainy-day album (of which Los Angelenos can now also accurately enjoy since it’s FINALLY raining here!)





22.
Mykki Blanco - Gay Dog Food (UNO NYC)
Mykki Blanco is one of the most important figures in modern hip-hop. His lyrical sting, leftfield genre-bending, fluid gender presentation, and bold taste in production partners are all unmatched. Blanco’s rather experimental Gay Dog Food (currently only available as a digital download, but a physical release is imminent) displays seemingly unlikely collaborators Kathleen Hanna and No Bra weaved perfectly into executive producer Gobby’s aggressive electronic patchwork.


23. Sleaford Mods - Divide and Exit / Chubbed Up+ (Harbinger Sound / Ipecac Recordings)
Divide and Exit spins like the incensed rants of the bitter drunk at the end of the bar set over rollicking bass and chintzy-but-nod-worthy beats. Just about every other line is punctuated with “Fuck Off!” It’s endlessly clever and fun. The fortified singles collection, Chubbed Up+ (also released this year,) is an even better collection than the quite stellar LP itself.



 
24.
Ex Hex - Rips (Merge)
 Mary Timony (Helium, Wild Flag) returns with her best album in over a decade and easily her most accessible. Ex Hex is Timony’s smoldering trio and they play gum-snapping power pop and new wave. Rips does more than its title promises, it totally shreds.




 
25. Iceage - Plowing Into the Field of Love (Matador)
Iceage switch out their slash-and-burn style punk for a drunken, swaggering post-punk reminiscent of early Bad Seeds. It’s a surprising and much welcomed shift.






26. Harassor - Into Unknown Depths (Dais)
LA Local crew Harassor spew punky and raw black metal all over your stupid face; the kind that could only be conjured on the American Hellmouth known as Los Angeles. “Winter’s Triumph” is an adventurous highlight driven by a catchy Killing Joke-esque riff.


27. Black Rain - Dark Pool
(Blackest Ever Black)
No Wave/Industrial pioneer Stuart Argabright (Ike Yard, Dominatrix) had the luck of having a 1995 shelved industrial film score he composed under the moniker Black Rain finally see the light of day in 2012, due to the unearthing skills of UK imprint Blackest Ever Black. Argabright now picks up where he left off in ‘95 with aptly titled Dark Pool. Retro-future soundscapes and Bladerunner atmospheres are helped along by the spectral vocals of Zoe Zanias of Linea Aspera.



28. Myrkur - Myrkur (Relapse)
 One-woman ethereal black metal band, Myrkur (aka Amalie Bruun,), does not pioneer new ground for her debut, but she does a most excellent job playing with the template of second-wave Scandinavian black metal and imbuing it with a powerful femininity.


29. DonChristian - Renzo Piano (Camp & Street)
NYC- based singer/mc DonChristian gets extra amorous on his abstract R&B-flavored Renzo Piano. Taking cues from actual architecture in the construction of the songs, Don layers wordless but evocative vocalizations over his smooth come-ons. There’s also hot, hot production from Boody and The-Dream, plus the obligatory guest spot from Le1f.


 
30. Lucy - Churches, Schools and Guns
(Stroboscopic Artefacts)
Berlin-based producer Luca Mortellaro avoids anyone’s ideas about a sophomore slump wholly with his provocatively titled Churches, Schools, and Guns LP. Look no further than the 4/4 of “The Illusion of Choice” and its modular leads. The blanket descriptor for a whole lot of techno these days is “dystopian” and Churches mines that concept and mood quite well; it also pulls from deeper emotional wells on tracks like “Falling” with its repetitive airy vocals and “The Best Selling Show” with its
broken, eerie organ chords.

31. Azealia Banks - Broke With Expensive Taste

(Prospect Park)
Major labels seem bent on keeping their most adventurous pop acts from public view and remain clueless as to what even makes them special. Last year, Capitol records finally wised up and let Sky Ferreira release her fuzzy tunes, but this year’s withheld gem had to be dropped back into the arms of its creator before the public FINALLY got to hear it. Azealia Banks’ Broke with Expensive Taste has a long and storied road dating back to 2012, which is surprising considering it’s quality and uncompromising, eclectic vision. It’s the kitchen sink of Hip Hop albums featuring everything from feisty ballroom tracks to indie surf-rock. Azealia Banks rides each track flawlessly, transitioning from her playful-but-always-fierce rhyming right into confidently singing her own damn hooks.


32. FKA Twigs - LP1 (Young Turks)
 There is miles of ink about Ms. Twigs already, and for good reason – her debut album, LP1, flawlessly melds a bonkers electronic experimentalism with mainstream R&B and pop with spellbinding results.





33. The Hidden Cameras - Age
(EvilEvil)
Joel Gibbs ends The Hidden Cameras long absence by adding dub and synth-pop to the projects' patented brand of “Gay Church Folk.”




34. Xiu Xiu - Angel Guts: Red Classroom (Polyvinyl)
 It is really no surprise that the darkest of all albums Jamie Stewart has produced under his Xiu Xiu moniker was conceived and realized in Los Angeles. Don’t dance away the bad thoughts, dance to them. Xiu Xiu is Dead, Long Live Xiu Xiu!




35. Aphex Twin - Syro  (Warp)
A matured but none-the-less utterly thrilling comeback LP. As a friend of mine noted, every song in the world should have a “Syrobonkus Mix.”







 36. Meshell Ndegeocello - Comet, Come To Me (Naive)
Meshell Ndegecello has had a impeccable string of albums for two decades but she really hit a glorious stride with her first post-major label release, 2007’s The World Has Made Me The Man Of My Dreams. That stride has continued right up to this year’s excellent Comet, Come to Me. Meshell leads her band with longtime collaborator and guitarist Chris Bruce through a killer cover of Whodini’s “Friends” into tracks that recall another one of her adolescent heroes -- Prince. There’s also chunks of trippy dub, and reggae, plus homages to jazz-era Joni Mitchell.


37. Morrissey- World Peace Is None of Your Business (Harvest)
Morrissey’s comeback LP of sorts, the fantastically-titled World Peace Is None of Your Business, had a stumbling roll-out that eventually led to the ever-surly crooner leaving the label that released it. This led to its subsequent withdrawal from the market --all within in a couple months of its release. Despite the drama, it’s a fantastic set of relevant and timely songs that embellish Moz’s classic-era sound (the subtle synths are back) with occasional Flamenco guitar and mariachi horns.



38. Blonde Redhead - Barragán (Asawa Kuru LLC)
A quiet gem like Barragán can get lost or easily discarded with the instant gratification of large MP3 libraries and streaming now the norm. It’s the sort of LP that takes its time to reveal its many treasures; repeated spins of the album’s electro-pop, shoegaze riffing and chamber-folk unveil its massively rich rewards.



39. Marianne Faithfull - Give My Love To London (Easy Sound)
This is Faithfull’s best album since 2004’s PJ Harvey-produced Before The Poison and a late career peak. The sarcastically-titled Give My Love to London features gorgeous collaborations with Nick Cave, Roger Waters and Anna Calvi that perfectly suit the beautifully ravaged and ever-wise voice of Marianne.


 

40. Dalhous - Will To Be Well (Blackest Ever Black)
“Bleak” seems to be the fashionable pose at the moment, and who could be blamed? Dalhous buck this trend, however, opting for hazier yet colorful soundscapes on Will To Be Well that seem to function more as views into other worlds rather than a space to wallow in this one.



41. Fumaça Preta - Fumaça Preta  (Soundway)

Amsterdam-based ensemble Fumaça Preta (pronounced foo-massa pret-ta) cram tropicalia, fuzzy psychedelic garage, electronics, plus African, Brazilian and Latin rhythms into one mightily awesome freak-out record. It’ll likely satiate those that were left a little underwhelmed by the new Goat LP.



 
42. Yvette - Process (Tough Love)
 First issued last year by Godmode, but reissued by UK imprint Tough Love this past spring with extra tracks, Process is miles above most albums looking to bounce around the well-trodden turf of angular ‘80s post-punk. Yvette achieves this by layering those angular structures with industrial noise à la Big Black but smoothing it over with singer Noah Kardos-Fein’s boyish vocals.




43. Black Bananas - Electric Brick Wall (Drag City)
Jennifer Herrema goes electro-funk and it’s the stuff, kid. Take 4 gravity bong hits, put on your roller skates but don’t call me in the morning.






44. Cakes Da Killa - Hunger Pangs (Red Bull Sound Select)
Cakes himself has described Hunger Pangs (currently available as a free download only) “the ugly older sister” to last year’s first-rate set, The Eulogy. This clearly rings true, as the album’s beats are harder and darker and while Cakes remains playful, he doesn’t let you forget he means business with his rapid-fire flow.
 


45. Wrangler - LA Spark (MemeTune)
Wrangler features Cabaret Voltaire's Stephen Mallinder, Tunng's Phil Winter plus producer and frequent John Foxx collaborator Benge and sounds pretty much like the sum of those parts. LA Spark is a regimented, throwback analogue trip through subterranean noir and neon.

 




46. Bremen - Second Launch (Blackest Ever Black)
Swedish space-psychedelia duo, Bremen, create a soundtrack that’s as sprawling as space itself and just perfect for that long journey inside your hypersleep chamber.




47. Cibo Matto - Hotel Valentine (Chimera Music)
Cibo Matto’s reunion album follows the story of a ghost girl roaming the rooms of a NYC Hotel over a tighter version of the duo’s trademark pastiche of jazzy hip-hop, post-punk, and tropicalia.



 
48. Merchandise
- After The End (4AD)
Carson Cox & co. jettison their signature haze for their 4AD debut. The production is cleaner and track times are radically trimmed back, but the songs are still there. Fits nicely between your Smiths and Bunnymen LPs.




49. Raspberry Bulbs - Privacy (Blackest Ever Black)
Raw, blackened and thrashy punk with killer riffs that recall late 80’s Northwest grunge.







50. Menace Ruine - Venus Armata (Profound Lore)
 Epic occult organ hymns. Play by candlelight.








 
 
TEN MORE WORTHWHILE SPINS FROM 2014

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